about learning …

chanced upon this 2005 document titled: About Learning prepared by the UK Learning Working Group (with Hargreaves as a chair/member). the document was released under creativecommons, so free access no copyrights issue **thumbs up**

the following excerpt found on pg. 7:

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so what would the Family of Learning Practices be like in language learning, or SLA to be more specific? #Food4Thought

knowing the wrong answers

we were talking about assessment literacy last week. and i chanced upon this article via fb feed “Why Teachers Need To Know The Wrong Answers“. to be able to assess students’ learning and facilitate improvement, teachers need to know all the answers (and their corresponding Whys).

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some lines that caught my eyes include:
“‘Students are full of all kinds of knowledge, and they have explanations for everything.’ From birth, human beings are working hard to figure out the world around us.”

– and how often teachers are responsible for ‘killing’ this curiosity?

“‘cognitive science tells us that if you don’t understand the flaws in students’ reasoning, you’re not going to be able to dislodge their misconceptions and replace them with the correct concepts.'”

– very absolute terms here, very ‘science’ — right vs. wrong. what do we have that are clear cut right and wrong in CL? and how often are we able to tell why one is right and the other is wrong? how many CL teachers have acquired the necessary linguistics knowledge, or the awareness/ability to learn about them on-the-fly/on-the-job/on-demand?

“‘Teachers who find their kids’ ideas fascinating are just better teachers than teachers who find the subject matter fascinating,'”

– i am not sure how many teachers around me are actually FASCINATED by their students’ ideas. i suspect more ‘irritated’ & ‘frustrated’ than anything else.

“‘The next step is to give students exposure to the information and experience that will enable them to reason their way to the right answer.'”

– and how often teachers just tell students the “right” answers outright in the face? in the name of efficiency of learning?

writing, marking

saw this article via a fb post/link this morning:

2016-02-17_082902Responding to Student Writing — and Writers

and i thought what the author pointed out are indeed in line with the spirit of social constructivism (meaning-making occurs in discourse/dialogue), and assessment for learning. 6 ideas to get it write:

  1. Differentiate comments on drafts from those on final essays.
  2. Give grammar lessons their own time and space.
  3. Create a partnership with students across the drafts.
  4. Extend these writing-based partnerships by having a class-wide conversation about commenting.
  5. Establish a class language for comments.
  6. Be encouraging.

the ideas assumed that composition writing is a process that involves drafts before finals. process writing is in the true spirit of developing writing competencies in our students. i must confess that i did not do this in the past. but if i were to be back in the classroom, this would be a must-do. otherwise, how can i expect my students to improve in their writings when (1) a one-off marked and return exercise may have too many issues to tackle (字、词、句、段、篇 all 5 areas add up is A LOT A LOT A LOT), not to mention this turns every essay into (2) a summative assessment in disguise.

development takes time for the learners. and in this case, it would most likely take up more time of the teachers. one thing that must definitely be looked into: the number of essays to be written as stated in the SOW. it would probably make a good experimental study to compare a class of students who completes only 4 (let’s say) ‘formative’ essays vs. a class of students who completes the usual 8 (let’s say) ‘summative’ essays.

idea improvement and CL learning

two days ago, met my 老师 for a little chat. and we came upon the topic of knowledge creation (k/c) in learning of CL — how does it look like?

assuming we were to use knowledge building (kb) pedagogy (Scardamalia & Bereaver, 2006) as the guide, ‘idea improvement’ would be a basic tenet. so what does idea improvement look like in CL? what is an idea in CL to begin with?

老师 recalled in the past, CL teachers in his 802 class have had problem reconciling CL and idea improvement. this is an observation, and to me, it’s also a phenomenon. what is the reason behind this phenomenon? we have to perhaps understand what is CL teaching and/or learning to CL teachers? just four days earlier, we were having lunch with a very senior and experienced CL teacher, and he said “有不少华文老师觉得怎样才能学好华文?” the answer is Beethoven the musician (背多分).

Beethoven (背多分) to me reflects CL teachers’ personal epistemology. sadly, it’s tended towards the naive end. what do you 背? naturally, it’s existing knowledge. existing knowledge by who? experts, authority, 前辈,etc. if knowledge created by experts have a higher value, this indicates ‘experts’ exist (cf. omniscient authority). if an authority exists, what is the chance of CL teachers expecting students, who are just beginning to learn and are generally having low CL proficiencies, be creating knowledge? not to mention 尊师重道、长幼有序 is inherent in Confucius’ teachings. one is expected to respect the authority, and accept the 千年累计流传下来的知识。 背,才会有多分。背得越多,得分越多。Hail Beethoven!

following my interpretation of these CL teachers’ personal epistemology, an ‘idea’ would be knowledge that’s been passed down from some authority. would there be a need to improve such an idea? it’s effectively asking these teachers to question the music Beethoven has written 🙂

if we were to encounter another group of CL teachers who possess more sophisticated epistemic beliefs, what would an ‘idea’ be in CL per se? perhaps we can look at what can be created, or are created in language classroom/lessons? yes, literary-related creations, e.g. written compositions, essays, poems, novels, etc. these are creations at a 篇-level. if it’s too ‘big’, we can always reduce the scope and create 段、句、词、字 instead for learners at different levels. assuming each of these could be an ‘idea’, what would idea improvement look like? what would kb discourse be about? yes, i would think it would be about these building blocks in their respective creations, individual or group work. why do student (or group) A choose to use this adjective in his/her sentence? why do student B think that student A’s choice could be improved; justify why, and the ‘improved’ choice? such idea improvement talk can occur at all levels – 字、词、句、段、篇, and related linguistics ideas would inevitably be brought in during the discourse (for e.g. 修辞、语义、段落、篇章结构). if the creation is oral instead of written, ideas of 语音、语速、语调 could be added.

so, perhaps if a CL teacher were to ask me “is knowledge creation possible in CL learning/teaching?” i would probably say “let’s examine your personal epistemology(‘s sophistication) first” 🙂

knowledge creation photoacknowledgement: Photo by woodleywonderworks

does “teachers teach the way they learn” work for CL teachers?

observing our current recruitment strategy, we appear to be recruiting teachers who have learnt well in a certain subject/field to teach that subject. from here, we could assume that teachers recruited to teach a subject is a successful learner of that subject.

we often hear “teachers teach the way they learn” (citation needed), it follows that a physics teacher will teach the way(s) s/he’ve learnt physics well, and students could model those method(s) and learn well too. likewise, a maths teacher will teach the way(s) s/he’ve learnt maths well, and students could model those method(s) to learn maths well. for such ‘wholesale’ teaching of a successful way to another, it assumes that the learner profile of the teacher when s/he was a student is similar to that of the students s/he is teaching right now. but often, our students are unique individuals with diverse backgrounds. such ‘wholesale’ teaching may not work, not to mention pedagogies advance with time.

pedagogy aside, the ‘content’ is another consideration. is “physics” or “maths” 15-20 years ago the same “physics” or “maths” we are referring to today? in other words, are teachers learning the same (or more or less the same) thing as their students when they were students? the nature of content affects how learning takes place too. and this in turn affects the idea of how a subject could be learnt well. self-examination of a teacher is important to raise self-awareness of this issue.

if we were to look at “maths” 15-20 years ago, we could perhaps observe some differences in topics to b taught/learnt at different levels over time. while pedagogies may advance, content-wise “maths” is still largely “maths”.

if we were to examine a CL teacher, i assume a teacher is recruited to teach CL because s/he learns CL well. a CL classroom >15 years ago is largely a teacher-centered classroom, with classroom discourse patterns largely limited to simple IRE. assuming a teacher learns CL well back then, is it appropriate for him/her to “teach the way they learn”? pedagogy aside, is the learner profile of the teacher when s/he was a student similar to that of students s/he is teaching right now? based on the trends of increasing English-speaking homes (around 60% in 2010), there is a higher chance that a present CL teacher grew up in a Chinese-speaking home. in other words, these teachers are learning CL as a first language. and the chance of them teaching students learning CL as a second language is on the rise, and ever increasing. from a language learning point of view, learning CFL and CSL require two entirely different approaches. before we ask if teachers are teaching these two groups of learners with distinct pedagogies, a lower level question to reflect on is, are teachers aware that their “CL” is not “CL” (cf. Maths)? in other words, not many, if not most, CL teachers can “teach the way they learn”?

i believe teachers know “time has changed; things are different”, but i’ve not had the chance to conduct a research on the awareness at this lower level. compared to his/her Maths colleague, a CL teacher is almost not teaching “CL” as s/he have learnt in the past. yes, there would be CL teachers who grew up learning CSL (cf. curriculum’s definition of second language), but at present, lack of official statistics, my guess is such number is few.

hence, the importance of developing reflective practitioners so that a CL teacher may always be aware of the different issues to be considered as s/he goes about designing his/her learning activities for students. fundamentally, “teachers teach the way they learn” has a minimal chance of working for CL teachers.

thinking photo (photo credit: “Thank you” unsplash)